Panjo and His Art

panjo with pipe

Ira “Panjo” Wollen (pronounced “Poncho”) is an american artist best known for his otherworldly expressionist paintings and his later abstract metal sculptures. 

Born in Brooklyn on November 3, 1924, to Russian immigrant parents, Ira actually began his career in music.  Before he became an artist, he played trumpet in some the big bands of the 1940’s.  He continued to play throughout the years, but his true love was always his art.  

He began as a painter, and was a Whitney Museum granted artist in the early 1960‘s.  He worked in oil on canvas until he noticed he was becoming more and more interested in making the paint reach far beyond the flat work surface.  It was then he decided to become a sculptor.

His earlier paintings oftentimes expressed darker, more existential themes, though his sense of humor occasionally did come through.  When he began sculpting, a more playful side of his personality emerged, and he allowed himself to explore lighter themes.

As a fun and interesting side note, in 1969 he was part of the art show at the “Aquarian Exposition” in Bethel, NY (now better known as the “Woodstock” festival), where he was awarded the first prize blue ribbon for one of his sculptures.

Panjo worked daily, until his failing eyesight could no longer support the welding that he needed to be able to do to create his sculptures.  He wrapped up his long career as an ‘artist in residence’ at Lehman College, near his home in the Bronx.  

Ever the true artist, he still needed to create, and so he channeled his energies into a very different kind of art form, and became a poet.

Below you will find a very small sampling of some of his earlier paintings (1950’s – 1970’s), and his later sculptures (1960’s – 2011).